In this episode of the Recruitment Hackers Podcast, Max interviews Cristina Mihai, VP of HR and Communications, at Conectys. As they review what’s hot (and what’s not so hot) in recruitment tech, she dives into the world of high-end BPO recruitment. She also goes over management challenges of remote work, keeping people happy, and dealing with new tech in regions where Internet isn’t reliable.
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Welcome to the Recruitment Hackers podcast. A show about innovations, technology and leaders in the recruitment industry brought to you by the leading recruitment automation platform.
Max: Hello, everybody. Welcome back to the Recruitment Hackers podcast. I'm Max from Talkpush and today I'm delighted to be welcoming on the show Cristina Mihai, who is VP of HR and communications for, I don't want to butcher the name, Cristina, it's Conectys. Thank you. Welcome to the show, Cristina.
Cristina: Thank you for having us and having me here. Lovely to be here.
Max: Lovely to have you. And Cristina is well, I said what you're doing but you were telling me before we got on about your very international team. Around some very exotic and lovely destinations with people in Turkey and Taiwan and the U.S all over the world.
Could you maybe start by introducing us a little bit to Conectys what you do and what makes this workplace special? Sure Conectys is a very, very special place. It's a very successful entrepreneurial endeavor with you know, just a guy who 15 years ago, decided to move from the corporate world to the entrepreneurial world and start a contact center, BPO business in a country that is not so, let's say familiar to everybody on the BPO map, which is Romania. And it's been a very successful story of growing from 10 people, 15 years ago to 3,000 plus in 10 different sites right now. And now the sun never sets on Conectys people.
Max: I noticed before we started our chat that you kept on growing in 2020 while others were retrenching, Conectys continued to grow through 2020.
So it's been a good year for the business. I mean, I'm sure traumatic in many ways, but you managed to get something out of this traumatic experience, some growth.
Cristina: Yes. So we really partner with our clients and even if this year was a very difficult one for some of our client partners, the good risk distribution within our portfolio allowed us to, you know, get some hits together with our clients but also grow very, very steeply with some others.
So we were also lucky, obviously. We did adapt.
Max: Only the good ones are lucky.
Cristina: Yeah, you make your luck within a degree, but you have to have luck as well. And we capitalized on our ability to move very quickly. I mean when the COVID situation hit us, we moved everybody in work from home in six days.
And I think this is the story, you know, working very closely with the clients and making this really entrepreneurial move, taking some risks, adjusting. I think that's the story behind it.
Max: And now we're in December. And those six days, they sound like the most fun time we ever had. Right? When it was like everybody was moving was exciting. And now we're all stuck at home and we hate it. Actually if you go back in time and you remember those six days, they were not so much fun, I think.
Cristina: No, they were not, there were legal technical implications. You name it. And everybody was happy to move from home, and now everybody's saying, can we go to the office pretty please, you know?
Max: Yeah yeah. The grass is always greener on the other side. That's why I'm back in the office now because everybody's stuck at home. I'm like I'm going.
Cristina: Yeah. And I want curly hair, but yeah. Not going to happen. So what can I say?
Max: So Conectys is a wonderful entrepreneurial success story from 10 to 3000 in 15 years. Well done. And you talked about the distribution of risk. I think in the BPO sector, there's a distribution of risk on both clients where you don't want to have all your eggs in one industry, but also geographical. Right? The clients are looking at the political risk and the cost of labor and how that changes with the currency rates exchange and things like that, for our audience who don't come from that world. Can you tell us how that factors into the decision from going for one BPO or another?
Cristina: Yeah. So in the latest years clients have been shopping for right shoring, right? Not offshoring like it was like 20 years ago, but right shoring to strike the balance between the lowest cost. In a BPO, typically 80% of the cost is human cost — or has been human cost, until lately. Now, technology is kicking in and that's changing a bit, but yeah. So you have to strike the balance between the lowest cost you can find language talent and the right quality. Because there's no difference between us and our clients. We need to service the needs of users, the end users. And that means that some people want really, really high quality, not just, you know, low cost.
So if you are the BPO partner of high-end luxury brands it doesn't matter so much if you cut the cost by 10, 20%, you have to maintain the quality so that the end user of our client company feels that they’re getting the value of customer service.
Max: They want that Chanel experience.
Cristina: Exactly. Even if my French speaking colleague, the talent in French is based in Tunis or Egypt or whatever it is ...
Max: I thought it was in Romania. I know I have so many of my Romanian friends who are fluent in French.
Cristina: True. But it might be in other territories.
Max: So I've only been working with the sector that you've been in for a long time for five, six years, myself. And so for all this time, in my mind Romania was like, you know, number one for Europe because of the multilingual talent and so on.
But you were saying that 15 years ago that wasn't the case.
Cristina: That was the case. This is why Arnold Cobbaert who is our CEO and founder chose Romania. One of the reasons he chose Romania is because it was a very, very strong talent language territory. Cost has gone high though in Romania.
So now we have to fight and find our edges for language talent in all the places we can get them.
Max: Destinations like Romania and maybe Malaysia are famous for having... and Dalian in China, are famous for having multilingual talent, where you can have one team that handles, you know, five or six languages. Is that model kind of, you know, old news now that people are working from home, like do you need everybody in the same room?
Like the multilingual city doesn't make sense anymore because the city is all on zoom anyway.
Cristina: It is true and probably COVID changed the philosophy of the BPOs forever. We will never go back 100% in offices, that's clear. But, this raises a lot of other issues and they have to do with leadership and management because these people have to be led and managed.
And it's not so easy to do it via zoom or whatever we're using, you know. And people really need the connection, the human connection at some point. We operate in delivery sites in territories where people are very relational. I mean, can you imagine Romania or Turkey or the Philippines, even, when people really like to get up to be together as people and you know, zoom doesn't do that.
I mean we haven't found the right way to team buildings on Zoom, you know, and stuff like that, Christmas parties. These are efforts that everybody's doing these days. So you’re right, it will be work from home forever and ever as an add-on to the business model, but we will have to strike a balance here somehow.
Max: Yeah, well maybe with all the money that people are saving on office and office rents, we can throw some really, really good parties and really big parties.
Cristina: Trust me, this is on top of our minds how to make them happy, you know, I'll put it in front of the freaking computer.
Max: Well I'm excited, it's on my mind too. I mean it's Christmas season in Hong Kong and the bars are closed and we're just trying to figure out how to squeeze some fun out of this season, this holiday season. And so yeah, I'm going to be sending some wine to people, I'm going to try the whole drinking wine on zoom with other people.
Cristina: While you're not on shift, preferably right.
Max: Yeah, well I, yes. I'm on 24/7 shifts. So I'm afraid that it's going to have to overlap a little bit. So, interesting comments you made about these cultures that are very relational. I've often heard, I've traveled the world, looking for sales, hiring salespeople. And every country I go to, they always tell me the same thing. Here it’s different. Here it's all about relations. The exact same words I hear them everywhere in the world. So at the risk of ostracizing, maybe some groups and some nationalities. And so as the head of communication I advise you to thread carefully.
But if on one hand of the spectrum, we have those warm, super relational countries. What's on the other side of the spectrum? What other countries that are maybe less likely to ask for a hug?
Cristina: Yeah, I'm going to answer that, but maybe elaborate a bit. Maybe it's the frequency of hugs, you know maybe, I don't know. Some countries have people that are, you know, satisfied with one hug a week. Okay. Others that need to huddle three times a day. So that's the difference I'm talking about, but human connection is something we all want and we all long for, so it doesn't work with that. It's just the frequency and the intensity of the bonding. That is a bit different.
And on the other side it's about the fact that some you know, country, characteristics go about being very individualistic. You can stand on your own, you can make your own decisions, have your own, you know, paths of action or very group type of thinking. People who need to chat between themselves in the team, for instance, to make a group decision and to move on like the Philippines, for instance.
So this is what I mean by the difference between, you know, okay.
Max: Okay, I'm going to answer my question myself. What you mean to say is the Anglo-Saxons, the Anglo-Saxons are more individualistic.
Cristina: You're the one pointing fingers. Not me.
Max: Okay. Yeah. So that's not a denial, so I'll take that as a yes. Yeah. I totally get it. I mean every time I talked to somebody in the U.S, for example they tell me I've been working on zoom for the last 15 years, it makes absolutely no difference to me. They've been doing it for so long.
And let's move from these sensitive topics to something more universal, which is the progress of technology and how technology has impacted your world. What are some of the technology initiatives that you've undertaken recently that have changed the nature of your candidate experience and maybe made it more automated? And you know how has the transition been managed?
Cristina: Traditionally Conectys is a consultancy type of a BPO. We, like I said earlier, we partner with clients and we give consultancy to optimize their businesses as well. Not only to deliver, you know, transactional results and stuff. So for us, it's been a while until we found a way to mix this — I wouldn't even say strategic approach — I would say the way we love to do business, you know, with incorporating automation and other kinds of tools that would help us on the cost side and efficiency side.
So what we've done is we have for instance, our software is 80% proprietary. We have a Conectys OS operating systems that we have been developing for years and years. And we keep growing functionalities there, but we have started this year to use a very, very strong internal automation team to help us build better interfaces, optimized processes and stuff like that.
And in recruitment, in talent, acquisition, recruitment, and selection, that business area, this is crucial for us. Because we operate very high volumes, we typically hire hundreds of people per month. So for us automating the sourcing part, the first part of the funnel elements, the ones that are not value added for customer experience, our candidates are our customers in this process, right?
Yeah. So we try to build in highly automated processes at the beginning of the TA funnel, the talent acquisition funnel to the extent that they don't hurt customer experience or candidate experience. This is the phase we're in, and we're doing this. We are building robots that funnel in from different talent sourcing pools, things into our proprietary systems, so that then recruiters can move into them, you know, taking care of our candidates.
That’s let's say top of my mind thing that we've been doing this year.
Max: And what do you think about video screening? Is that in or out? Hot or not hot?
Cristina: It is hot. But, it's not on the top of the list because of the issues that we're having in certain territories with the internet.
Max: Yes. The Philippines.
Cristina: Yeah we are seeing talent pool areas where the internet is not so good so that the machine can’t do the work properly.
Max: How's Tunisia for the internet. Good enough?
Cristina: Asia is not good enough.
Max: Tunisia, Tunisia.
Cristina: Ah, Tunisia. I haven't done that in Tunisia yet. We haven't done it yet.
Max: And then chatbots hot or not?
Cristina: Very, very hot we're working on it. But you have to be smart because if it's not smart, people are being hurt by interacting with the machine.
Max: So, yeah, well we have our thoughts on best practices, you know be transparent about the bot being a bot and let the bot accept when there's a mistake, escalate to a human when needed.
Max: And ideally create a system which is hybrid where you have the bot and the human that can take different parts of the candidate journey.
Cristina: Absolutely. That's the way we're going. And we're building on it.
Max: All right. We've reached the same conclusions. Good stuff. And so with all of this hiring being done remotely now and no parties, no hugging. Do you have some tips and tricks for our listeners on how we can humanize and build stronger bonds for people we're not going to meet in person?
You said you haven't found a solution and everybody's trying to solve the same problem. But You know, we'd be happy to hear them, even your bad ideas, we're happy to hear them.
Cristina: Oh yeah, we have a lot of those. Because like I said, we're entrepreneurs, which means trial and error. We keep experimenting things until we get some stuff. We have really moved — it's about leadership practices, obviously. It's about each person's team manager being really, really close in the huddles.
It's about using Well, the chat system that we have. It's about being in proximity, because you can have virtual proximity very easily. If everybody knows that the peers and the managers are, you know, one word away or even when you open the channel and stay in touch with your colleagues, even if everybody's working independently.
For instance, when I work with my peers and my colleagues, we may open the screens just to be like in the same room, we do our own thing and we just make jokes together. So, this can be as good as it gets right now.
Max: These principles, I guess, can be applied for onboarding as well, where you have a new class of people who are being hired and you're giving them a chance to immediately interact with each other.
I've seen this in virtual career fairs where you got some networking between the candidates, so they feel that they're part of a common experience. It feels more real if you're in it together.
Cristina: Yeah. And maybe one of the biggest recent wins, I think is the ability of people to pop up in meetings like we used to do, and we were in the offices and somebody would open your door and they would say something and, you know. We're doing that right now in a virtual environment, we have the meeting lines that are being open.
Even yesterday, somebody popped up, said, hey, sorry to disturb, but I have a question: can we sort it out with the two of you that are here? So they popped up in the virtual meeting. They popped out. It's feeling like you're there, you have access. You're not stuck in your own home with your own computer, with just planned access to people.
Because I think this is the point. Planned access is fine, but the unplanned thing that you feel the need to solve is the difficult one.
Max: Yeah. Sometimes it's just like, ah, so frustrating. I just want to grab somebody and meet them now and it can not happen. But then if you get that time with them and you open a Google slide or a whiteboard online, like it's just as good, you know, it is just as good. It's just a little less natural initially.
Cristina: It is, but again, an example from training. We had a group in training and we wanted to work together on some phrases, you know, setting objectives, goals, stuff like that. And it was even better than in real life, because in real life you can’t have a group of people going to the white board and writing on top of each other.
Max: No there's always some asshole who holds the pen the whole time.
Cristina: HAHA, there you go. And you don't have physical space in front of the little screen, but here it's entirely possible because people were all on the same document you could see who is changing what. And we even took pictures of that because it's good interaction.
Thank God for technology. I mean, this crisis struck when we had options, you know?
Max: Yeah. I felt the same thing on my side and that you get more productive and you do the meetings.. where it used to be, you run meetings, sequentially asking everybody to talk: you, then you, then you, then you, and now you can do meetings where kind of everybody is pouring out information at the same time.
Cristina: Yeah and you have new options, for instance now we are really having a lot of fun, for instance, is one of the values of the company. So we get ways to do that. And it's really fun to play with a mute others button when you want to play a practical joke, right. Or when somebody feels in a funny way and just puts some, you know, ears and noses thing in a very serious conversation. These are things you can't do in real life, but you can do it now. So let's take advantage, there you go, that’s the one.
Max: So for our listeners, I just went ahead with the bunny ears, a courtesy of zoom technology.
Cristina: Yeah. That's the point!
Max: No disrespect Cristina. I mean, it's an honor. It's the first time I'm taking the bunny out for the podcast.
Cristina: Looking good on you. What can I say?
Max: Yeah, the more stuff I put on my face, the better I look.
So you've brought a little bit of fun into our lives and to this discussion. So thank you for that. And I hope your company's good fortune will be contagious for our listeners, and that they'll have the same kind of success your company has had next year. If they haven't had this year.
Cristina: Fingers crossed.
Max: And yeah any parting words or tips for our audience? I have one more question.
Cristina: Yes, please go.
Max: This one is darker and then we'll do the parting words. The darker question is go back to a time when you hired somebody that was a really, really bad hire. It's normally a memory that you've erased from your memory. And what did you learn from that mistake?
Cristina: To track my instincts. You know, that moment where, you know, something's off, but your entire logic says, oh, no, it's fine. Sooner or later managers or people in talent acquisition learn to educate or to listen to their instinct. So that was the biggest lesson.
Max: Well I agree with you completely. I know we've all made that mistake.
Cristina: And we keep doing it right?
Max: Well, yes, because we should also not trust our instinct.
Cristina: Exactly. You're right. You need that mix.
Max: Okay. So yeah. on the automation journey advice for our audience for our audience?
Cristina: Always ask the question, can this be automated? That's how we do it. Always ask, can this be automated? You know and the second question is, is it worth it? So just use those two questions.
Max: Yeah we can cut those three hour meetings down to a few minutes where those two questions. I think you've given us a very good working tool, Cristina, thank you very much for your time and thoughts and well Merry Christmas and a happy new year.
Cristina: Thank you, Mr. Money.
Max: Talk soon.
Cristina: Talk soon.
That was Cristina Mihai from Conectys, VP of HR, reminding us how important it is to have a sense of humor and a positive outlook when you work in HR and when you're helping an organization go through a big transformation. It's important for people to not take themselves too seriously. And even when you're doing automation, technology and various serious things, you need people like Cristina to make the organization stay strong together.
Hope you enjoyed it. And that you'll be back for more on the Recruitment Hackers podcast. Please follow us and share with friends.
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